Monday, October 31, 2011

The Colour Out of Glitter: The Rise and Fall and Rise of CanadianHorror's First Boy Band

The Colour out of Glitter: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Canadian Horror's First Boy Band

An expose by Laird Barron, Kurt Dinan, John Langan, and Paul Tremblay

The winds of change do not blow from random places; they blow mightily from Toronto, Canada.



In July of 2009, when there were only dark whispers and rumblings of a sleeping giant, one poised to take the pop music world by storm, three seemingly unassuming young men from up there in Canadia, somehow made it to Readercon, the conference of imaginative literature in Burlington, MA. Richard Gavin, Ian Rogers, and Simon Strantzas made an impression on the attendees as thoughtful enthusiasts of horror fiction and passionate fans of the musical oeuvre of NSYNC and Backstreet Boys. Two weeks after their very low key but important penetration of the American border, their hurriedly pressed EP Tundra: Three Canadian Chillers was released. The hit “Omens” took the music world by surprise. While the synthetic beats and Splenda-sweet melodies were not ground breaking, it was the moody, gothic lyric “the darkly splendid realm” sung in a delicious falsetto by Richard Gavin that enchanted listeners. Their unexpected overnight success took an early toll on Gavin in particular, as he turned to religion to cope with the newfound stress and expectations. Reportedly, Gavin attempted to meld aspects of Kabala, Pentacostalism (mainly the rattlesnake handling), Norwegian Death Metal, and Howard Philip Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos into his own concoction he termed Strantzasism. Rogers and Strantzas had difficulty with Gavin’s newfound and scattershot fervor. Heedless of the warning signs of the problems that would germinate from beneath the surface, The Colour Out of Glitter (or CO0G) began to work on their smash follow-up, A Very Canadian Boxing Day.



A Very Canadian Boxing Day proved a wild success in Canada, dominating the local college radio airwaves for sixteen weeks and achieving a measure of popularity in the United States, cementing the band's status as pop godlings in the making. But it was this very international stardom that would prove the undoing of COoG. The trouble began innocently enough, as these things often do. Simon Strantzas was energized by the rabid support of COoG's two fans from the US, Paul Tremblay and John Langan, both of whom sent countless fan letters. Strantzas, dedicated champion of the people as he was, insisted upon personally answering each and every letter, which numbered in the scores weekly. Ian Rogers knew something was amiss when he noted that Strantzas licked each and every return envelope and stamp despite the fact they were of the self-adhesive variety. Strantzas was addicted to more than love -- his passion for adhesives would soon spiral out of control and led to grave consequences that would threaten to rip the band apart. Bad as matters were, however, the worst was yet to come.



Strantzas's increasing battle with adhesive-addiction, coupled with Gavin's sudden decision to spend three months pursuing a therapeutic cleansing via bran and pig's blood at a monastery in the Carpathian Mountains, led to Ian Rogers being thrust into leadership of the band. Before Strantzas and Gavin had departed for the Betty Ford Center and Romania, respectively, each had laid down rough vocal tracks for what was to be the band's next album, a collection of covers of classic love songs whose working title was Valentine's Day Three Ways. When Rogers had seen each of his bandmates off at the airport, he had reassured them that he would not, as he put it, "bollocks things up." Left to his own devices, however, Rogers decided to abandon this project in favor of something far more complex, a Valentine's Day concept album which would tell the story of Felix Renn; a lonely private investigator's quest for love in a city filled with monsters and bacon. Rogers blended Stranzas's moving cover of Bon Jovi's "Runaway" (which he oddly renamed "Cold to the Touch") with Gavin's tender homage to Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla," adding his own, polka-inspired take on The Bay City Rollers' "Saturday Night" to the mix and setting it all to a sampling of Donna Summer's Greatest Hits. The resulting album, Johnson for Hire, would consist of this thirty-eight and a half minute song, whose title, "Everything I Do" (Love Theme from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), would lead to a fist-fight between Rogers and Bryan Adams when the two bumped into one another at that year's Canadian Music Awards, held at the downtown Toronto Sizzler. And though Rogers would claim his title had nothing to do with Adams' mega-hit, and that the copies of the album with Adams's face on the cover were the result of a mix-up he had nothing to do with, it was clear that, in his hands, what had been Canadia's latest entry into the world of pre-fab post-adolescent pop was in jeopardy.



Newly-released from his stay at Betty Ford, Simon Strantzas launched an ambitious plan to restore the fortunes of the band that, as he had put it, had allowed him to move into a house with a solid-gold toilet bowl. Together with Richard Gavin, rejuvenated by three months of relentless bran, he set up and booked a tour whose focus on the group's earlier, more audience-friendly catalogue would re-establish their bond with the two groups of fans who had made them what they were: lonely, middle-aged men whose pretensions to literary grandeur had long ago been ground to dust by a cruel and indifferent marketplace, and soccer moms. Although initially sluggish, ticket sales for the "The Colour Out of Glitter: It's the U That Makes Us Canadian (And Not British. Really.)" tour picked up dramatically after the group's surprise performance at Mr. Sub's "Buy One, Get One Half-Price" promotion. Ian Rogers, though, was not happy with the new-old course the band was following, and once again, his taste for violence would get the better of him. When he overheard veteran Canadian folksinger Gordon Lightfoot questioning the band's prospects while waiting for takeout at the Friendly Thai restaurant, Rogers leapt on the man with his full measure of fury. And though Rogers would subsequently receive almost half a dozen get well cards from his mother during his recovery at Toronto General Hospital, the delay his broken jaw, dislocated shoulders, ruptured spleen, and shattered knees threatened the tour with forced Strantzas and Gavin to a stern response. They publicly suspended Rogers from the band, replacing him with Corey Hart for the remainder of the tour. To make matters worse for Rogers, he was the subject of a lawsuit by the Friendly Thai restaurant, which claimed that his actions had made their name a lie and forced them to change it "The Mostly Friendly Thai Restaurant." Together with the reggae-inflected cover of "Sunglasses at Night" Strantzas and Gavin recorded with Hart, which scored unexpected success on the elevator-music circuit, it was looking as if The Colour Out of Glitter might have lost its R.

It was during this time that Rogers had a meeting that would change his life, and ultimately, bring the original The Colour Out of Glitter roaring back to life. While picking up a jalapeno and pineapple crepe at Crepes a Gogo, Rogers felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see the grizzled face of Laird Barron smiling at him. Having heard of his old acolyte's troubles, Barron had leashed a team of half-rabid coyotes to an old bed frame and lashed them all the way to Canadia to deliver to Rogers a message that would steer him away from the cliff he was speeding towards: "Ian: cool it." Newly-empowered and -inspired by Barron's trenchant advice, Rogers steered his two-wheel segway out into the August snow and set off in search of the two men with whom he'd once shared such intimacy. As it turned out, Strantzas and Gavin were ready for his return: while initially happy for any measure of publicity, Corey Hart had become increasingly demanding, insisting that, for their next album, the group should release an album of German bratwurst songs. When Strantzas and Gavin saw Rogers reappear in the doorway of Strantzas's mother's basement, tears in his eyes, all was forgiven, and Hart was tossed out into the night, without his sunglasses.



So now, with a new lease on musical life The Colour Out of Glitter is back, headlining Buger King's "The King Isn't THAT Creepy" tour, working on their next album, It's Still the Eighties in Canadia, and ready for whatever life has in store for them.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

This is Where the Road Ends

As I’ve no doubt mentioned, the writing group I’m a part of, Snutch Labs, has a book coming out soon entitled Tales from the Yellow Rose Diner and Fill Station.  With pre-ordering ending in a little over a week ($6 off if you pre-order), I thought I’d share some thoughts on one of the stories and give you an excerpt.

What you’ll find below is the opening section of John Mantooth’s entry, “This Is Where the Road Ends.”  I know a lot of writers by now, but only a couple of them have real voice.  John is one of them (and I hate him for it).  It also plays a large part in why John's about to have his first collection of stories, Shoebox Train Wreck,  coming out with ChiZine Publications soon.   I mean, just read that second paragraph and try not to get jealous.  I'm not going to “tie the [story] to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it” as Billy Collins says, and attempt  to explain to you why I love John’s writing so much.  Just read an example of it below (that second paragraph is a real beaut).  You’ll understand.

And when you’re finished and want more, head here to buy Tales from the Yellow Rose Diner and Fill Station.  You’ll get the rest of this story, and six other fine stories as well.



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“This is Where the Road Ends” by John Mantooth

Jonas hit the kid on a warm fall afternoon, the sun flattening out over the horizon in a spectacular crush of gold. Sometimes, especially late at night when the house was quiet and he’d gone out to look at the stars, he almost convinced himself it was that sun, not the seven beers he’d had over lunch with Bryant Keith that had caused the accident.

The worst part was that Jonas had been expecting him, bracing for him even. How many times had he made the turn by the Mitchell farm and seen the fat little kid trudging home from his bus stop? Dozens, at least. Probably more. The kid had always had the common sense to stay on the left, out of harm’s way because even a fat little kid knew the turn was as blind as Stevie Wonder. Sometimes, he’d even wave, but most days he’d just huff and puff his way on past, like the little kid that could, trying to make it home from his bus stop in time for a glass of milk and a bagful of cookies before the reruns on channel eleven started at four. Once Jonas saw him on his knees, investigating a dog carcass. It was the only time he didn’t look comical, like the little fat kid you see in the movies that doesn’t run because he waddles, the kid that got all the bad genes and all the bad luck. But even then, poised above the dead dog like a prayerful Buddha, he had been on the left side of the road.

The day Jonas hit him, he was on the right.

Jonas tried to brake, but all that did was give the kid time to look up from watching his feet. Their eyes locked for a long second and then there was a sound like you hear when somebody sits on your hood and the sheet metal pops. Then the kid was airborne, and somehow one of the boy’s feet got snagged on Jonas’s side mirror, and his body twisted violently before the foot was wrenched free. Jonas felt his seatbelt lock as the car came to a hard, tread-burning stop.

What followed was silence. This was the moment that could still make Jonas a blubbering idiot. He could think about all of it now, all of it except that one moment when he had to actually make himself get out of the car. Make himself see what was left of the kid.

When he did get out, he was blank. Can the mind ever be completely blank? At that moment, climbing out of the car, his was. It was as if his brain was in the process of rebooting itself, of clearing the old memory, deleting programs that would no longer be relevant, and getting ready to adapt to a new operating system, one that came with viruses and malware, and an impossibly steep learning curve.

After the blankness, when his mind started working again, the only thing he could think was it isn’t real. There is not dead boy on the road. There is not an impending 911 call.

He was lying just off the side of the road, a lump of breathing flesh. His sweatshirt had gotten twisted around his neck and his bare belly was exposed. Jonas watched it heaving for a full twenty seconds before he realized what this meant.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Few Reviews

Been away awhile.  I suck at this blogging thing.  In better news though, the (novel) writing is going well, so there’s that.

Some Reviews:
Raising Stony Mayhall – by Daryl Gregory
Best book I’ve read all year.  They can stop writing zombie books now.  Somehow, Gregory has written an entirely human book with a zombie main character.  Remember when Clint Eastwood put out The Unforgiven and the response was, “Well, that’s pretty much the last word on westerns for awhile, thank God.”  Well, Gregory has done this with Stony Mayhall.  My first reaction when I heard Gregory had a new book was, “He wrote a zombie novel?  Seriously?  Oh crap.”  But man, he nailed it.  Smart, well-written, and heartfelt.  And yeah, it’s about zombies.   Just read it.  Trust me.

Ready Player One – by Ernest Cline
I was really looking forward to reading this.   Loved the set-up – a virtual world contest set in 2044 but based on 80’s pop culture – it was all right in my wheelhouse.  And I loved the pop culture nostalgia it filled me with and the subtle references to the movies and music and games I filled my (nerdy) life with as a teenager, but by the end of the novel, I just felt a bit too empty.  It became more a novel written by someone hoping it would become a movie rather than a novel about characters.  The novel didn’t start that way, but that’s what it became, unfortunately.  Still, I go thumbs up for the reasons above – and it is a really fun story – but it’s a sort of disappointed thumbs up.  (Extra bonus points for Cline’s use of “Setec Astronomy” as one of the passwords Wade uses.  Loved the movie it’s a reference to ((although, technically, not an 80’s film)). Underrated, in my opinion.  In fact, all of Cline's passwords are fun references to song lyrics and movie lines.)

Southern Gods – by John Honor Jacobs
When you’re a writer, reading novels by other writers you know personally (or biblically, be that the case) can be a tough situation.  If the book is terrible, how do you tell them?  Or if the book is great, is it possibly only great because you consider them a friend?  I’ve learned to be objective, but that only goes so far with me.  I have a hard time detaching the reader from the work.  So as I read Southern Gods by JHJ (who I don’t know biblically, in case you’re wondering, but do know personally) I had to keep asking myself, do I like this because I know and like the writer, or because it’s a good book?  Now that I’ve put some distance between myself and the book – I finished it about a month ago, right after it came out – I can honestly say that, “Yeah, this is a good book.”  On one level, some might say this is a pretty straightforward detective story – “find this missing guy who may be involved with or a victim of something sinister” - but the devil is in the details and the reason this novel works.  The setting, the musical history, and the world building JHJ does all raise this above standard horror/crime fare.  For me though, it’s the mood and tone of this novel that really make it effective.  I felt unsettled as I read this, and that’s difficult to achieve.  The novel does have its ‘first novel’ moments – the dialogue reads stilted to me in some places, the action scenes go on a bit long for my tastes – but it’s obvious JHJ has a bright career ahead of him.

Sixkill –by Robert B. Parker
This is the last Spenser novel Parker wrote before he died.  I listened to this on cd (Joe Mantegna does a great Spenser, by the way) and really enjoyed it.  Parker was (likely) setting up a new character, Zebulon Sixkill, for a series, and he is introduced here and plays a major role in the plot.  As with a lot of the last few Spenser books, the plot is a bit thin, but I just never really cared.  I’m incredibly forgiving of Parker’s flaws (his books are all pretty much the same, really) because I love the characters and the dialogue.  It makes me sad to know there won’t be any more Spenser novels, but this was a solid finish, I thought.  What’s regrettable is that Hawk wasn’t in the book at all, “off doing some work in Asia” we’re told.  Too bad.  But if you’ve read the other Spenser novels, you know that’s somehow fitting, Hawk being as he is.

Monday, May 23, 2011

5 - Stephen Graham Jones' The Ones The Got Away

Remember that feeling you got when you first read Ray Bradbury's The October Country or maybe Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts, thinking, 'Oh man, I need to tell someone about this  right now!'?   That want-to-shout-it-from-the-mountaintops feeling and wanting to find someone else who's read the same thing so you can talk about how great it is, be part of some club of people who just know?  I've had that experience with a handful of things - being 11 and seeing The Thing with my brother, Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, the Hill collection mentioned above.  If I'm lucky I get this feeling every couple of years, but usually it's longer than that.  But then the last couple of days?  Oh man.  Stephen Graham Jones' The Ones That Got Away has just slaughtered me, giving me that 'holy shit' feeling that resulted in  calls to old friends to say, 'Seriously, go buy this, now'.  I was pulled between wanting to rush through the stories fast because they're that damn good, and wanting to slow down because when I was finished, that was it.  Still, three days.  And I'm going to reread it in a couple of weeks.  I missed stuff, I know, rushing through and all, but it couldn't be helped.

I'm bad at reviewing and whatnot, so I'll put it this way - every one of these stories surprised me in a way I didn't think I could be surprised anymore.  I remember reading John Langan's (great) collection Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters and physically feeling fear in a couple of the stories, and thinking it had been so long since writing had done that for me.  But it was all back again in TOTGA, "Raphael" and "Crawlspace", definitely - the last two pages of those stories are a part of my DNA now, for better or for worse.  I finished "Crawlspace" at eleven last night in a quiet house and was in no state of mind to go downstairs to let the dog out.  And the contained storytelling mastery in "Father, Son, Holy Rabbit", "Wolf Island", and the title story...you just know you're dealing with something special here.

I'm so hyped about this collection that I'll give you something to roll your eyes at - this might be the best collection of short stories I've ever read.  It'll take some time - always needed to declare something an A1 Favorite, right? - but I'm excited as hell to return to and see how these stories are for me on second reading.  Because if it's anything like the first time - and my gut tells me it'll be close - man, oh man.  Go buy it here.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

4 - A Story Sale and Some Book Reviews

First, a quick thing about me - I wrote "Plink" two (maybe three) years ago.  It's always been my favorite of my short stories.  I sent it off to  Cemetery Dance where it proceeded to sit waiting for a thumbs up or thumbs down for two years.  Finally, my iritation and impatience got to me and I entered it in the short story contest run by the World Horror Convention in Austin last month.  And I lost.  And I was pissed.  But then Nick Kaufmann, one of the judges, pulled me aside and said how much he enjoyed the story and to get it back out there.  When I got home, I pulled some favors and got the okay to send it off to Pete Crowther at Postscripts.  He bought it the next day.  Can't beat that.  It'll either be published in the winter of this year or spring of next year.  Can't wait.

And now, what I've been reading:

Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism by David Nickle
Chizine Publication's parade of excellent books continues with Nickle's Eutopia.  Unsettling, original, and surprising, Eutopia is...hell, I'm terrible at explaining books in a way that makes them sound interesting.  Here, I'll cheat - this is from Chizine: "The year is 1911.  In Cold Spring Harbour, New York, the newly formed Eugenics Records Office is sending its agents to catalogue the infirm, the insane, and the criminal—with an eye to a cull, for the betterment of all."  And that's all I knew when I started reading, thinking, "eugenics, cool topic", then Nickle comes out of left field with this thing (maybe not the best word for it, but you understand my point), Mister Juke and I realized the novel I had in my hands sure as hell wasn't what I expected.  Love when that happens.  Nickle's a damn fine writer and Eutopia is a damn fine novel.

The Samaritan by Fred Venturini
I met Fred in Austin a few weeks ago at the World Horror Convention.  Gotta tell you, the guy is nuts.  In a good way, but nuts.  He was talking with Paul Tremblay and Stephen Graham Jones at the time, and he handed me a free copy of his book.  I dragged him up to a party on the fourth floor where he talked about being stabbed and set on fire, then made a bunch of "your mom" jokes.  My friend John Mantooth pulled me aside and said, "Who is this guy?"  I said, "Fred."  So when I started The Samaritan, I had no idea what to expect, was even a bit hesitant.  But man, oh man, this guy can write.  What starts off as "outcast in high school falls in with a cool guy who takes him under his wing" turns into a bizarre novel of organ regeneration and the drive to do good by people.  Venturini is obviously influenced by Chuck Palahniuk a good bit, but I have to tell you, this book has more heart and rings truer than Palahniuk's stuff.  Looking forward to more from Venturini.

Last Days by Brian Evenson
Guess I'm a little late to the party on this one since it came out last year and was all the rage.  Still, am glad I found out about Last Days now.  Amputees, detective noir, and a great quantity of dark humor.  Loved it.

In the Woods by Tana French
Well-written, interesting, funny, and ultimately a massive letdown.  How in the world did an editor allow French to end this novel the way she did?  The book has two mysteries in it - one from the main characters past when he was a child and a current one from when he is a police detective - and only one of them is solved.  Ridiculous.  I think it was Mickey Spillane who said the first chapter sells the book, the last chapter sells the next book.  In this case, I won't be buying another of French's novels.  I just can't trust her to deliver.  Too bad, too.

Good People by Marcus Sakey
My friend Michael Cook had been telling me for a year now to read Sakey's stuff.  I finally relented and picked up Good People.  Truth be told, I was dubious.  I've read a handful of "good people finding bad money" novels before.  What could Sakey do that others hadn't?  Fortunately, the answer is 'a lot'.  Sakey's novel is filled with dread.  I really wanted these people to get away with their lives in tact, probably the best compliment I can give it.  I'll definitely be hunting down other Sakey novels.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

#3 - Reading Lately

In prep for WHC in Austin next week, I've spent my month reading as many books by the other writers who will be there.  Here's a quick rundown:

The German by Lee Thomas -Ernst Lang is an ex-German soldier living in the U.S. during the WWII.  When kids in town start dying, he becomes the main suspect. It's been a couple of weeks since I finished this novel, and Lang has stuck with me.  He's unapologetic about who he is in a time when being perceived as anything but normal is dangerous.   I enjoyed the hell out of that aspect of the book.  In fact, I think is this Thomas' most mature and professional work to date.  His previous publications all rang true for me, but something about this novel really made me think I was reading a full-blown, top shelf talent.

Fated by S.G. Brown - Fate, Death, Lust, Envy, Luck, Gossip, Karma, and others wander the planet doing the jobs tied to their names.  The thrust of the novel is main character Fate falling in love with a human woman, but a good deal of the book is Brown's hilarious opinions on the current state of affairs in our world.  I think it took big balls for Brown to tread into territory made famous in Gaiman's Sandman comics, but he makes his own mark with these characters, writing them differently than Gaiman did and - this is comparison is going to be strange - writing with an attitude and edge that reminds me of early Elvis Costello albums.  Anyway, a great, fun read.

Mr. Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett - During the Depression, a group of travels chase a murderer named by the hobos Mr. Shivers across the country.  This book has great mood and tone, and one very unsettling scene in a jail cell.  This is Bennett's first novel, and I'll be picking up his second book, The Company Man, soon.

Still have a few other novels I'm hoping to read before next week including Gemma Files' A Book of Tongues, which I should hopefully get to tomorrow.

Monday, March 14, 2011

#1

Going to retry this blog thing by beginning on a new site.  Like when I wanted to get back into running and bought new shoes.  Or when I wanted to get back into drugs and found a new dealer, yo.  I say screw Thoreau and his warning about enterprises that require new clothes.

As a quick bio: I live in Cincinnati with my wife and three sons.  Both of us are teachers, but she's a Teacher, hardcore and with a capital T.  Me, I get by.  Any freetime I get is spent writing.  Currently, I'm on the third draft of my first novel.  Am hoping to have an "okay, well one isn't truly embarrassing" version ready mid-summer.  We'll see.

Recently, my short story "With These Hands" showed up on Ellen Datlow's Honorable Mention List for 2010, and my story "Into the After" leads off the Stoker nominated Horror Library IV anthology.  So I've got those things going for me.

Oh, and I'm looking forward to meeting old friends and making new ones at WHC in Austin.  I'll be the freakishly tall one who's not Paul Tremblay.

Enough for now.